Note: This article contains spoilers.
Unlike Adult Swim’s primary staples—its Tims, Erics, Eric Andres, Ricks, and Mortys—the title character of “Joe Pera Talks With You” isn’t unhinged. Joe Pera, a fictional character played by a comedian named Joe Pera, is a quiet and kindly figure. While he appears to be in his thirties, he carries himself with the self-assured authority of a senior citizen who is very proud of his zucchini crop. He lives in Michigan’s endlessly gorgeous Upper Peninsula, and the area’s natural wonders play a prominent background role. Ethereal music lends peaceful atmosphere as Pera embarks on meditative monologues about his passions: local geology, waterfalls, fireworks, and breakfast foods, for example. He is a grade school choir teacher who rewards his students with green apples. It’s a nice show.
“Joe Pera Talks With You” might sound boring when stacked next to Adult Swim’s maximal chaos, but there’s something hypnotic about each 11-minute episode; the writing packs all the observational specificity of a Bill Callahan song. And it’s here, in a show built on earnest vulnerability and good-natured characters, where TV gets one of its best-ever episodes about music discovery.
The season’s sixth episode is called “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.” Standing at the podium, Pera tells the congregation that the church is in need of volunteers for Saturday mass. Then, as he starts talking about the upcoming toy drive, he suddenly veers off script. “I’m sorry, have you guys heard of the Who?” Pera’s entire face lights up. “They rock! They’re unbelievable! I heard them for the first time on Thursday and I haven’t slept since!”
The show cuts to a flashback of Pera washing his dishes with the radio on. It’s snowing outside, his hands are covered in soap suds, and the faucet is running when a classic rock station begins playing “Baba O’Riley.” While the sound of Pete Townshend’s iconic organ solo fills his kitchen, Pera becomes visibly distracted, and when the piano chords begin, he stops entirely. Standing over the kitchen sink, you see his breath shorten as his smile broadens. With an expression of disbelief, he stops the chores and listens. This song that’s somehow eluded him for his entire life now has his full attention.
The show seemingly takes place in the present, but Pera is not a creature of the internet, so he calls the radio station to learn more. He writes down the name of the song, and then, for the rest of the night, he calls every radio station in town so he can hear it over and over. From there, we witness what happens when an adult man is completely overtaken by his new favorite song. He drinks red wine before diving into a huge container of ice cream. He picks up his basset hound Gus and spins him around the living room. He dances stiffly but enthusiastically across the shag carpet of his home before jumping on his furniture. When pizza arrives, he literally pulls the delivery guy into his house: “Come on in, you’ve gotta hear this song!” Soon, both men are jumping in unison with Keith Moon’s crashing cymbals.
It’s ridiculous, of course, that a midwestern man would only just be discovering the Who in 2018, but even if his cultural blind spot is glaring, his elation is universal. When a song affects you that deeply, you want to play it ad nauseam. You dig into it and try to figure out what the lyrics mean. You flail around your home while testing the limits of your speakers. You start talking to strangers, wondering if they’ve heard it, and if you share a small but significant connection. You let these songs breathe new life into old routines and rituals.
Then you ask every person in your life if they’ve heard it. Granted, your friends won’t always be kind in the face of your enthusiasm. (“Of course I’ve heard this song,” says Pera’s neighbor Mike. “It’s everywhere all the time. How have you not heard it? What are you, an idiot?”) And obviously, you’re going to play it for someone special. Pera brings a CD player into his school’s band room to play it for his new friend Sarah. She’s heard it, of course—she’s the band teacher—but she still smiles and enthusiastically thwacks a giant drum to the beat.
Pera is forced back into the present when a priest finally cuts him off after several minutes of talking about the Who instead of reading from the bulletin. “That tune must really be something special for you to have stopped right in the middle of the announcements like that,” says Father Andrew. Excited, Pera asks him if he’s ever heard it and then explains that he’d probably encountered it at some point without realizing it. He starts singing, and after a bit, the congregation joins in. It’s an amazing moment, because somehow, it’s completely believable. This man with kind eyes and a soothing voice, energized by his new favorite song, talks about how “Baba O’Riley” changed his life. In a room where you’re encouraged to sing along, he makes a strong case.
Moments like the one Pera lives through in his kitchen don’t happen often. It’s rare when a song comes into your life and rearranges everything. “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements” bottles that moment beautifully. Pera ends the episode by thinking out loud about why the Who put a violin solo in the middle of the song. As the credits roll, “Baba O’Riley” plays again. Somehow, even after all its repeated plays during the episode—not to mention 47 years of overexposure—it still feels new again.